I once was talking with a pastor friend of mine who was sharing their wisdom regarding the nature of serving as the senior pastor of a church. This person drew on an image that they had gleaned from one of the major church consultants of the Schaller, Easum, Bandy school, and suggested that it was the proper model for serving as the pastor in charge.
“The pastor must experience from the perspective of a catwalk,” my friend said. “They should be able to stand above and see everything that is going on in the church. Then, when some issue arises where they are needed, they should swoop down and deal with the issue until they can return to the catwalk so they can maintain the ‘big picture’ of life in the church.”
I understood what my friend was suggesting in their belief that the pastor needs to know everything that is happening in the church. As some would say (to mix metaphors) the pastor should have their fingers on the pulse of the congregation, knowing what is going on at any point in time. And, I have seen many colleagues struggle with burnout and exhaustion as they try to do so.
I found the catwalk image intriguing because prior to my ministerial life, back in the days when I was a video, audio, and event management geek, I spent quite a bit of time on catwalks above convention centers and stages. Almost all convention centers and theaters have them to make rigging lights and sound equipment much easier. I’ve lowered video screens into place from 100 feet over the floor of Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, and watched the proceedings of the United Methodist General Conference from the catwalk in Pittsburgh Convention Center. I’ve spent enough time in these dark and scary areas to develop a few observations about how the image relates to ministry.
First of all, catwalks are probably the worst place from which to view an event. You would think that standing right over the artist would be a great vantage point for seeing what is happening, but catwalks have too many wires and cables and stanchions that get in the way, and your sight lines are limited. The best seats are those right in the middle of the action, where you can see and hear and be fully present to the action around you.
Secondly, one quickly discovers that it’s not as easy as it sounds to descend from the catwalk to deal with issues. In fact, most audiovisual professionals don’t even try. Rather, they will keep one person on the catwalk and one person down on the floor who is telling the person on the catwalk what to do. The person up high is pretty helpless, because they really can’t see very well, and usually the only communication they have with those down below is via walkie-talkie, rarely connecting directly with those who are shouting orders from below.
Ministry is rarely effective when it is being done from on high, out of sight, and direct communication with those in the middle of the action. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest that ministry done from the catwalk misses the mark entirely in regards to the teaching and example of Jesus. God, the creator and one who was trying to woo humanity back into relationship, stood on the ultimate catwalk. God had the ultimate vantage point above, and through a variety of folks (prophetic walkie-talkies) attempted to communicate with those on the stage below. But it didn’t work, so God came down off the catwalk to stand beside the actors, to walk among them and offer them directions, and to stand with them in their experience of the world. Jesus was not a catwalk minister, but rather one who walked with those he served. And Jesus avoided spiritual walkie-talkies, choosing instead to talk directly with those around him. We may indeed worship a God whose home is in the highest heavens, but when the rubber met the road God descended and has continued to walk among us as the great Emmanuel.
It is interesting to think about the alternative understanding of the catwalk: the raised stage that models walk on when they are showing off the latest fashion. This stage (also known as the runway) is designed to put there beautiful people up on a pedestal, saying “Hey! Look at me! Aren’t I cool!” They are created to keep a sense of separation between the beautiful people and the rest of the masses down below.
The final problem with the catwalk image in ministry is that Jesus clearly suggested that placing one’s self on a pedestal for congratulation and accolades is corrupt. In fact, his own life and ministry reflected humble service as gave his life for something bigger than himself. To stand on the catwalk is to draw attention to one’s self rather than pointing to the creating God who loves us beyond all measure.
I hope that my ministry continues where it has always been, down in the trenches among the regular people, trying to faithfully live in the way of Jesus in the world. May I never find myself up on the catwalk.